Here’s an improved version of my game Glorieta. First I’ll present the rules and then explain how they got this way.
Glorieta is a game played for two players with black and orange stones on a board that looks like this:
The filled spaces on the board are called Neutral Spaces.
- Loop – a connected group, composed of like-colored stones and possibly neutral spaces, which completely surrounds one or more spaces, regardless of what’s in those spaces. The picture below shows an example of a black loop and an orange loop. Note that loops can overlap, because they can share neutral spaces.
- Player 1 places one black stone on any non-neutral space and Player 2 two decides whether to take ownership of the black or the orange stones.
- Starting with Orange, the players take turns, each dropping 1 stone on her turn. Stones may not be placed on neutral spaces.
- The first player to form a loop wins. If no loop forms, the game is a tie.
That’s it for the rules. How did they get this way?
Last week I played a bunch of matches of an earlier version of the game that I call “chicken” Glorieta. The extra experience revealed that the game isn’t what I thought. I expected it to become more strategic with increasing experience, but instead it’s grown more tactical. And now I see that optimal play is probably entirely tactical, for reasons I couldn’t see before.
As I mentioned when I first presented Glorieta, the key to designing the game is to make it sufficiently easy to form a loop (they don’t form naturally on Hex boards). What I failed to see is that if I made all possible loops easier by the same degree, I’d end up with an overly tactical game.
The reason is that, since the smallest loop is only 6 stones, if it gets too much easier to make that loop, the game will become entirely about doing so, and that will involve mostly tactics. Maybe this wouldn’t be bad, except that my reason for designing this game is to unlock the strategic potential of loops.
Glorietta makes loops possible by the introduction of neutral stones which both players can use to form loops. But here’s the thing: if two or more neutral stones can be close enough to all be part of a six-stone loop, then it opens up the possibility of very easy-to-build six stone loops.
With “chicken” Glorieta, the players have control over where the neutrals go. If optimal play required players to place neutrals far apart, there would be no problem, and optimal play would also lead to the most interesting play, but that appears not to be the case.
As far as I can tell, good play in “chicken” Glorieta requires a player to place neutrals close together in such away that his stones are better connected to them than his opponent’s are. As both players do so, neutrals pile up close to one another and the game swiftly ends. Neither player ever bothers trying to create large loops.
So the key insight here is that in order to ensure a strategic, as opposed to tactical game, something must keep neutral stones from being too close together.
There are two general ways to ensure that:
- Impose a rule limiting how players use neutrals.
- Create an initial layout of neutrals to ensure a good game.
After much fiddling, it became clear that the second possibility is much better:
- By designing the initial neutral layout, I can adjust the balance between tactics and strategy. The more stones the initial layout has, and the closer together they are on average, the more tactical and the less strategic the game gets. This was the biggest selling point. Rarely do games admit of such control over the balance between strategy and tactics. It gives me confidence that I can make this a good game.
- I also learned that a good initial layout can ensure that the edges of the board aren’t wastelands, and that play spreads out.
- This choice yields a simple ruleset (not only is it my simplest loop game, it one of my simplest of any kind).
- I can’t figure out how to impose a rule limiting how players use neutrals which isn’t awkward.
Note: the layout of neutrals at the top of this post isn’t the final word. The best layout can only be determined over time by many players.
I don’t love that ties are possible, but it’s an asthetic objection rather than a practical one because you can make the draw ratio as low or as high as you want with the initial layout. I can live with that. In fact, I kind of like it, because it means I can make the draw ratio about the same as it is for Havannah, which is ok because my original design goal was to create “Havannah but for loops only”.
(Note: there’s a way to eliminate even the possibility of ties by imposing an additional rule that if you make it impossible for your opponent to form any loop at all, you lose instantly. But I don’t like it enough to include it. I’d rather just increase the number of neutral spaces.)
For those interested in allowing players to control the neutrals, here’s the best ruleset I’ve come up with which gives control of the neutrals to the players:
- The board begins empty. To start, black drops a friendly stone.
- From then on, starting with orange, the players take turns. On your turn you must drop 1 friendly and 1 neutral stone such that they’re not part of the same group, if possible.
- The first player to form a loop containing at least 6 friendly stones wins.
You’ll notice that there’s no longer an option to decline placing neutrals. I’ve become convinced that neither player would ever be motivated to decline, because each player can always find a spot for a neutral that helps her more than it does her opponent. If there’s never a reason to decline, it may as well not be an option.
These rules don’t address the problem completely, since you can still place neutrals in close proximity. But it’s less useful to do so because they can’t be used to make the smallest loop threats. This game is still pretty tactical even if it’s an improvement over the earlier version. For example, it remains possible to build a loop containing eight stones in total, two of which are neutrals. I also feel that maybe the game is a bit more opaque. For these reasons, my jury’s out. I’m sure it’s an improvement over the “chicken” version of the game I presented in my last post, but I doubt that it approaches the quality of the fixed-layout version.
There are other rules that I could have chosen that would have solved the problem more completely, but I couldn’t find one which wasn’t too awkard. For example, I could have imposed a rule that on each turn, a player drops 1 friendly and one neutral stone. the distance between any two neutrals on the board must be at least 3 steps, if possible. Failing that, the distance must be at least 2. Failing that, 1. Failing that, none. Awwwwwwkward.
So, I leave this as a challenge: find a way to give the players control of the neutrals such that the neutrals end up spaced throughout the board with optimal play.
Finally, below is a pdf of boards for paper and pen play (red and black pens will do). Note that I’ve provided three different initial neutral layouts to play with. The “official” one is the one on the far right.